An examination of why we do it and how we can change the course.
If there is one mistake I have made more times than I ever care to admit, it’s giving too much. At the core of me, I’m a harmonizer. I’m also dangerously empathetic.
I am your favorite person in any group project because I will do all of the work rather than let the collective fail. Being the group doer doesn’t make me a good person. It makes me a bit of a sucker. It’s exhausting.
Have you ever noticed everyone else knows exactly who the doer in the group is? Other people can sniff it out. They know and will sit back and let us do our thing and carry the group. They’re not mean spirited. It’s human nature.
Over-extending ourselves comes naturally so others who are not over-extenders assume that we really enjoy making things happen, so who are they to steal our thunder? Except it doesn't work that way.
We really don’t want to do everything. We just have trust issues. This is different than control issues. We don’t want to control the situation, we simply want to make sure the work gets done. So we do it ourselves.
This was me in my second marriage. I did the emotional, physical, and financial heavy lifting. That’s not a humblebrag. It’s the recognition that I knew if I didn’t do everything, we’d fall apart. The minute I gave up doing everything, we fell apart. Saw that coming.
Giving too much is a weird version of self-martyrdom. The downfall to this is rarely does anyone recognize everything we’re doing for the greater good of everyone else.
Lack of recognition leads to dissatisfaction. Dissatisfaction leads to resentment. Resentment leads to anger.
This is how people leave partners and jobs that they thought were going to last the test of time.
Admittedly, not all givers are altruistic in nature. As an empath, there is something a little selfish about how much I give. It’s not that I want anything specific return, it’s that when the people around me are happy, I feel it as much as I feel their sadness or frustration.
Giving is my way of hedging bets that I’m going to end up surrounded by blissful people. It staves off being around angry, crabby people. It sounds nice until you realize that you can’t control people’s emotions, nor do you want to.
Giving too much is like letting your spiritual boat stray off course just a tiny bit. You don’t really notice it until you’re so far of course it takes considerable effort to get back to where you need to be.
Correcting the course isn’t a knee jerk. Like an actual boat, cranking that wheel hard and hitting the gas could end up in disaster as you capsize your boat and are stuck treading water. We all know you can’t do that for very long.
Think about the concept of giving and receiving like it’s a tank of water. If you have water flowing out, you need water coming in. We find ourselves in a bad place when the flow out is much greater than the flow in. You need to manage this carefully.
Here’s the rub, though. Managing one part isn’t enough. You need to manage both. Flow in and flow out. GIvers have a tendency to forget that whole flowing in thing exists. Oops.
The dangerous part, obviously, is the amount flowing out. I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone say, “Man, I have too much love and attention flowing in! I’m overflowing. This is horrible!”
Of course, there are some people who routinely let the tank overflow because they never open the release valve and let the good stuff out. We call those people assholes. That’s a whole other topic for another day.
Flow management leads to feeling appreciated, having higher energy levels, and self-respect. It just takes practice.
Managing the Flow Out
There’s a line to giving. It’s called boundaries. Most people who give too much have a hard time with this but it’s the only way to keep the flow out from being a river.
I have struggled with saying no in the past. The group slackers can see me from a mile away. Ask me to do something, help with something, get something, or make something and when I would try to refuse it would come out, “Noooooo-kay. Sure!”
To control the flow out, you need to take inventory. Figure out how much you’re giving to what and determine if that is appropriate or not. Before giving, ask yourself a few questions.
- Is this going to be appreciated? No? Then why do it? Feeling good about giving for the sake of giving feels nice for 36 seconds until we realize the recipient does not care. We are not on this Earth to be martyrs. We shall not die on the hill of Everyone Has Perfectly Folded Laundry.
- If I didn’t do it, would I be happier but everyone less so? This is the kryptonite to givers. We can’t possibly see other people unhappy. Unless it’s us. We’ll be perfectly happy when you’re happy. Stop that. Being a happy person is not selfish. Sometimes, we need to think of ourselves first?
- Am I giving to avoid conflict? This is the worst reason to give. It’s manipulation because I can guarantee the recipient of your giving knows they can get you to do more than you should out of fear of their reaction to having to do it themselves.
Managing the Flow In
Most givers who over-extend themselves have a hard time receiving. We feel guilty. It’s hard for us to be pampered. We have to admit, though, that the idea of being pampered makes us swoon. That is, of course, if you can get us to sit down for five minutes.
We have to open ourselves up to receiving. Even more so, we have to expect that people will give to us too. That is the basis of any functional relationship. We give. We receive. We increase our happiness.
- Does the person or entity I’m giving to have the capacity to give, as well? The answer to that is yes. It’ll spoil that one any day of the week. Everyone has the capacity to give something. They choose not to. Remember the kid that always volunteered to clean something in the teacher’s room and then no one else had to do it ever again? Yeah. Don’t be that kid.
- Talk more, smile less. Givers have a tendency to hide their own disappointment and fake it until we make. You can’t expect people to meet your needs of you don’t communicate them. You can’t communicate them if you don’t make those needs important to you. Focus on what you need and ask people to give to you. It’s awful at first. Not going to lie. But, it’s worth it.
- Make sure that you are giving to yourself. Your capacity to fill your own tank is huge. You are, and always will be, the most important person in your life. There is a reason the airlines tell you to put the mask on yourself before helping others. Make this the mantra for your life. Every part of it.
This applies to all parts of life: love, family, friends, work. Every relationship you have is a group project. Hell, your whole life is a group project. It’s because we’re all in this together. The together part is critical.
You don’t carry everything. You alone don’t keep forward momentum happening. You don’t single-handedly fight off despair. There are other people. Let them do their part. Encourage them to do. Hold them accountable for doing it.
Flow in. Flow out.
Flow out. Flow in.